Fresno State signed 15 players including eight from the Valley on Wednesday in the early national letter of intent signing period and a national recruiting expert said a tactical shift could set up the Bulldogs for bigger and brighter in the future.
“The thing with their class is they got so many early commitments, there already was the belief in (first-year coach Jeff) Tedford and what he was going to do so the buy-in came much sooner,” said Brandon Huffman, the national college football recruiting editor for 247Sports. “With Pat Hill, they always put their class together late. With Tedford, they had a good chunk of these commits before the season even started. Then some of the guys they got – a Matt Lawson, for one – those are guys that had other options and they saw that Fresno State was clearly trending upward and they jumped on that.
“That’s what’s so significant. You usually see the bump in the following year’s class and I think given how quickly they turned things around this year and how well recruiting was already going before they even got into the season, you’re really going to see that 2019 class see a significant bump and there’s a lot of Fresno kids that are coming up next year.”
Next year is next year, but Tedford was pleased with the Bulldogs’ haul, which addressed areas of particular concern: defensive line and receiver.
“It was great,” he said. “We were really excited. We were up early at 4 o’clock, anticipating guys to sign. We left some people back home to receive the letters. So it was an exciting day. Everyone we felt like was going to sign did, and they got it done early. We’ve got a lot of new Bulldogs.”
The first letter of intent to come in was from Clovis West wideout Rodney Wright III (5-10, 195), whose father ranks third on the Bulldogs’ career receptions list. There were indications as late as Tuesday that he would wait until the regular signing period in February.
Wright, Clovis West’s Ricardo Arias (6-2, 225) and Tulane Union’s Emoryie Edwards (6-0, 195) join a position group that next season will be losing seven seniors including KeeSean Johnson and Jamire Jordan.
More pressing in the Class of 2018 is the defensive line, where three of the four starters and five of the top eight are seniors and will play their final games in the Hawaii Bowl against Houston.
The Bulldogs signed interior linemen Matt Kjeldgaard (6-3, 275) from Oakdale, Leonard Payne (6-3, 260) from Pius X-Downey and Lawson (6-0, 310) from Colony-Ontario. Also added was defensive end Isaiah Johnson (6-3, 215) from Downey-Modesto.
The Fresno State class also includes quarterbacks Steven Comstock (6-2, 185) from Northview-Glendora and Ben Wooldridge (6-3, 195) from Foothill-Pleasanton; offensive linemen Clive Truschel (6-3, 295) from Clovis West, Elijah Carson (6-8, 290) from Morse-San Diego and Nick Abbs (6-6, 290) from Fresno City College; defensive backs Shamar Whestone (5-11, 210) from Upland and Deshawn Ruffin (5-10, 175) from Sunnyside; and linebacker Sherwin King (6-0, 205) from Sunnyside.
Fresno State still could add a player or two on the regular signing day Feb. 7.
“There’s another guy or two, but the good part about it is you go back into evaluation mode and there’s going to be some guys that are overlooked,” defensive backs coach J.D. Williams said. “Maybe you can get some of those guys to walk on or sign them if a scholarship comes open late.”
But with most of its 2018 class in place, the Bulldogs can get a good head start.
“In January we’re going to be able to get a head start on what’s going on for next year,” Tedford said. “Get out and kind of scout the teams.”
That strategy, offering more recruits early, could more than any talk about a stadium renovation or program and facilities upgrades prove beneficial down the road.
The eight Valley players is the most Fresno State has signed since it had nine in 2010 under then-coach Hill – that group included wideouts Isaiah Burse (Modesto Christian), Josh Harper (Saint Mary’s-Stockton) and Jalen Saunders (Elk Grove) as well as safety Derron Smith (Banning) and offensive lineman Cody Wichmann (Mariposa).
Two high-profile Valley recruits signed with Power 5 schools – Clovis West quarterback Adrian Martinez with Nebraska and Tulare Union running back Kazmeir Allen with UCLA.
“I think part of that is a disconnect with (Tim) DeRuyter not doing a great job focusing on those kids and Pat Hill getting in on them late,” Huffman said of the previous two Bulldogs coaches. “I think you’ve seen a more concerted effort from Tedford and from his staff to get on these guys early and to me that’s the biggest key. It’s not just the stadium renovations or turning it around, but more importantly it’s getting in on these guys early so Fresno State becomes a viable option from the get-go rather than after 12 to 15 Power 5 schools have offered.
“Even if they don’t pick them to have a national Fresno kid list Fresno State in their top five, it’s good publicity. It gets them in with more realistic targets. If Fresno State is not offering the top kids at all, there’s no buzz building around the program at all.”
Fresno State 2018 recruiting class
Players who committed Wednesday at start of early signing period
Sherwin King Jr.
St. Pius X-Downey
Players already in program who count as part of Class of 2018
walk-on put on scholarship